We first saw the new Tascam Model 24 mixer, digital recorder and audio interface back at the NAMM show in January 2019 and since then there has been much talk and plenty of coverage of its live mixing and recording capabilities, but thus far not much has been made of using it as an interface in the studio in conjunction with the DAW of your choice. To rectify this, in this article we try the Tascam Model 24 as a front end for the modern DAW-based recording studio.
The Tascam Model 24 In The Studio
When Tascam first announced the Model 24, I have to admit I got very excited. When I’m not in the studio playing with new toys (sorry I mean testing important equipment) for Production Expert, I like to get out there in the thick of it, in the trenches and record bands and groups live. I am also asked to do live sound at these gigs. I love it, I really do, but there is nothing scarier than running a DAW as your recording platform on a gig. The old “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong” rule applies here and if you have ever done it, you will know the stress and worry are just not worth it. So over the years, I have been looking for simple and cost-effective ways to do both live sound and live recording from the same piece of gear and it looks very much like the Tascam Model 24 could well be the answer. However, when back in the nice, safe and controlled studio environment, the modern DAW (I’m using Pro Tools) can be a marvelous and creative thing. So how does the Model 24 fare as an audio interface when linked to a PC or Mac?
22 Channel Analogue Mixer
At its most basic level, the Model 24 is a 22 input analog mixer. Tascam gets away with the 24 tag line as you can playback 2 channels from the built-in SD card. We get 16 mic preamps over XLR, two 1/4” high Z instrument inputs, four stereo pairs via 1/4” jack. Channels 21-22 are your 2 track returns from stereo Phonos or mini-jack input for playback. In real terms, this means we can have 12 mics connected at the same time as four balanced stereo pairs inputs over 1/4 jack and a stereo input from a phone for half-time tunes. But how does this all translate into the studio?
After downloading the driver for the Model 24 for my Mac I connected it via USB, booted up Pro Tools and set the Model 24 to be my audio interface. Having installed the driver I was expecting to find some kind of Model 24 software on my system but to my initial surprise, there was nothing. Pro Tools saw the Model 24 as an interface and with some small amount of quick experimenting, I was able to get audio in and out over the studio monitors and headphones. So is it really that simple? The reason there is no software control panel is that I believe that the devices that normally require a software controller platform have a very minimal selection of controls. On the Model 24, I have all the controls I need for routing, monitoring, and processing on the board. Instead of setting up monitor mixes in a software control panel, I can do it on the hardware, the old fashioned way. If I want to tweak the EQ on the snare drum channel I can do. The first 12 channels feature a 3 band quasi-parametric EQ and a very nice sounding one-knob compressor. This is very much geared to vocals but sounds OK on overheads. Don’t expect to get a big fat kick sound, because you will be disappointed.
Sending Signals To Pro Tools
Now let’s not get all carried away and think that for one moment the Model 24 is a full inline console and about to replace the Audient ASP8024 in my studio. It isn’t and it’s not. The level of what gets sent to Pro Tools (or your DAW of choice) is pretty much set by how you have the gain set and if you have the 100Hz Low Cut engaged. That is where the split point is. This means that EVERYTHING that happens to the signal after the Low Cut, including the compression, EQ and fader level have no effect on what hits the DAW. Now in the live world, this is great and means you can mess with the signal all you need to to get the Front Of House sound perfect without committing that tone “to tape”. But in the studio, you might want to commit the EQ or the tone of the compressor. Sadly, this is not switchable.
The only switch you have to worry about is the MODE switch that is just below the Low Cut 100Hz filter. There are 3 modes of operation.
Live: Use the signal from the input jack as the input source
PC: Use a signal from a computer connected to the USB port as the input source
MTR: Use a playback signal from the SD card as an input source
For this session, I had channels 1-16 (14 mics preamps) set up for mic input from my drums. Stereo channel 21/22 was set up to be my DAW return and set to PC. You can see my Pro Tools routing in the image below. All the channels from Pro Tools route to channels 21/22 on the Model 24.
This routing workflow does have its pros and cons. I have control over my DAW feed coming back from Pro Tools on a single fader, which is very quick to adjust if I’m not comfortable, however, if you have the channel faders up and the channels unmuted in Pro Tools, you do get a very very slight phasing sound due to monitoring both the direct and from tape source. In much the same way as you might in an in-line mixer work-flow. I was running with a recording buffer of 64 samples so the effect was very slight but boosting to 256 samples made the doubling quite offputting. The only way to get around this is to mute either the recording channels in Pro Tools and then un-mute them every time you want playback (tedious) or monitor through the DAW. Most of the time when recording drums I used this method. I just pulled all the mic input channel faders down. However, this means you can’t take advantage of the very nice sounding Model 24 EQ or built-in reverb. The built-in plate setting deserves a special mention as is very nice sounding. Setting up a mute group in Pro Tools would get around this but I’m quite used to tracking drums though the DAW so it was not a problem. I did, however, monitor the direct sound with a little comfort reverb when tracking the guitar parts.
You can have all the features, bells and whistles in the world but if the thing sounds bad then it just sounds bad. Well, I am very happy to report that the Model 24 does not sound bad. In fact, I think it sound pretty good. The mic preamps sound clean and natural. Yes, turn the gain pot up around 5 o’clock and they hiss but hey, don’t they all?
The Tascam Model 24 is a very capable and feature-rich mixer, recorder and audio interface. It sounds really great and it’s very easy to use in whatever “mode” or role you choose for it. Now you might think that this is going to be an expensive piece of kit. However, in the UK you can buy a new Model 24 for £789 including VAT. I don’t think it is possible to get an audio interface with 16 quality mic preamps for anything like that sort of money from any other manufacturer. Oh and let us not forget, it’s still a full-featured mixer and recorder, so there has to be a catch right?
Well, sadly there is. The faders on the Model 24 are not fantastic and they are clearly one of the points where money has been saved. The sliders on the graphic EQ, which we have not talked about in this article but can be either across the main outputs or Aux Outs 1 and 2 also feel rough, again I’m sure a cost-saving measure. The general, build quality is good. The wood-effect plastic side cheeks are going to look tatty if you take the Model 24 out of the studio after a while, but that is what the Model 24 is designed to do, but with those faders, I’m not sure it will be up to it. If only Tascam had installed a better feeling quality fader. I’m not talking high-end Penny & Giles or Alps models but just something that gave me a little more confidence under my fingertips. Model 24 could have been truly brilliant, but sadly, I think it’s an opportunity missed. It’s still a very usable mixer/recorder and a fantastic studio interface and I’m sure they are going to sell boatloads of them. At that price, every studio should get one as a get out of jail free card.
You can find out more about the Model 24 and the new Model 16 at the Tascam website.